Micro Four Thirds: Everything You Need to Know

The micro four thirds (MFT) system, introduced in 2008, revolutionised the mirrorless camera market with its compact design and impressive image quality. This system offers photographers a lightweight and portable alternative to traditional SLRs.

The micro four thirds format boasts a large imaging sensor, interchangeable lenses, and advanced features typically found in larger cameras, making it an attractive choice for enthusiasts and professionals alike when opting for a mirrorless camera system.

What is a Micro Four Thirds Camera?

Definition and Background

A micro four thirds camera, like the Panasonic Lumix G7, is a type of mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system that features a smaller image sensor compared to traditional SLR cameras. The micro four thirds standard was developed in 2008, aiming to create a compact and lightweight digital camera system without compromising image quality.

Sensor Size and Aspect Ratio

The micro four thirds sensor size is approximately 17.3 x 13 mm, which is smaller than the APS-C sensors found in many SLR cameras but larger than the sensors used in most compact cameras. This sensor size strikes a balance between image quality and portability, allowing for impressive performance in a compact body. The aspect ratio of the micro four thirds sensor is 4:3, which is different from the 3:2 aspect ratio found in most SLR cameras.

Lens Mount and Mirrorless Design

One of the key features of micro four thirds cameras is their mirrorless design, which eliminates the need for a bulky mirror box found in traditional SLR cameras. This design choice contributes to the overall compact size and lightweight nature of micro four thirds cameras. The micro four thirds lens mount has a short flange focal distance of 19.25 mm, which allows for the development of compact and lightweight lenses specifically designed for the system.

Advantages of Micro Four Thirds

Compact Size and Portability

One of the primary advantages of the micro four thirds system is its compact size and portability. The smaller sensor size allows for a more compact camera body and lens design, making the entire system significantly lighter and easier to carry compared to traditional SLR cameras. This makes micro four thirds cameras an ideal choice for travel photography, hiking, and any situation where mobility and convenience are essential.

The compact nature of micro four thirds lenses is particularly noteworthy.

Lens Versatility and Adaptability

Another significant advantage of the micro four thirds system is its lens versatility and adaptability. As an open standard endorsed by numerous manufacturers, micro four thirds cameras can utilise lenses from various brands. This diversity of lens options provides photographers with a wide range of creative possibilities.

Moreover, micro four thirds cameras are exceptionally well-suited for adapting lenses from other systems, such as Canon EF and vintage lenses. The crop factor of the micro four thirds sensor effectively doubles the focal length of adapted lenses, allowing photographers to achieve telephoto effects with smaller and more affordable lenses.

Additionally, the use of focal reducers for “SpeedBoosters” with adapted lenses can further enhance their performance on micro four thirds cameras. These adapters not only reduce the crop factor but also increase the effective aperture of the lens, providing more light-gathering capability and potentially improving image quality.

Advanced Features (e.g., In-Body Image Stabilisation, Electronic Viewfinder)

Micro four thirds cameras are renowned for their advanced features, which often rival or even surpass those found in larger and more expensive camera systems. One standout feature is in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), and it has become an expected standard in micro four thirds cameras.

IBIS compensates for camera shake by physically moving the sensor, allowing for sharper images and videos, even in low-light conditions or when using longer focal lengths. Some micro four thirds cameras, such as those from Panasonic, offer Dual Image Stabilization, which combines the stabilisation capabilities of both the camera body and the lens for even greater effectiveness.

Another notable feature found in many micro four thirds cameras is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Unlike optical viewfinders in SLR cameras, EVFs provide a real-time preview of the image, including exposure settings, white balance, and other adjustments. This feature allows photographers to accurately preview the final image before capturing it, facilitating more precise control over the creative process.

Considerations and Drawbacks

Smaller Sensor Size and Potential Image Quality Tradeoffs

While the micro four thirds sensor size strikes a balance between image quality and portability, it is smaller than APS-C and full-frame sensors found in many SLR cameras. This smaller sensor size can lead to potential tradeoffs in image quality, particularly in low-light conditions and when shooting at higher ISO settings.

  1. Noise at High ISO: The smaller the individual pixels on the sensor, the more susceptible they are to noise. Since the micro four thirds sensor packs a similar number of megapixels into a smaller area compared to larger sensors, it may suffer from increased noise at higher ISO settings. However, advancements in sensor technology have helped mitigate this issue, and the latest micro four thirds cameras perform remarkably well in low light.
  2. Dynamic Range: Dynamic range refers to the camera’s ability to capture details in both highlights and shadows. Some reports suggest that micro four thirds cameras may have slightly less dynamic range compared to full-frame cameras, potentially around 1.5 stops less. However, many reviews still consider the dynamic range of micro four thirds cameras to be excellent, with some models boasting an impressive 13 stops of dynamic range.

Autofocus Performance Compared to SLRs

One area where micro four thirds cameras may lag behind SLRs is in continuous autofocus performance, particularly when tracking fast-moving subjects.

  1. Continuous AF for Moving Subjects: While the autofocus on micro four thirds cameras is fast and accurate for static subjects, it can struggle to maintain focus on moving subjects consistently. Achieving focus on a moving subject often involves pre-focusing and some luck, whereas SLRs tend to have a higher hit rate in such situations.

Ergonomics and Handling for Larger Hands

The compact size of micro four thirds cameras is a significant advantage, but it may also present ergonomic challenges for photographers with larger hands.

  1. Grip and Control Layout: Some micro four thirds camera bodies may feel cramped or uncomfortable for those with larger hands, particularly when using larger lenses. The grip size and control layout can impact the overall handling experience.
  2. Accessory Grips: To address ergonomic concerns, some photographers opt for accessory grips or battery grips, which can improve the handling experience but add bulk and weight to the camera system.

It’s important to note that while these considerations and drawbacks exist, they may not be significant for all photographers. The choice between a micro four thirds system and other camera formats ultimately depends on individual preferences, shooting requirements, and the specific use case.

Conclusion

The micro four thirds system has undoubtedly carved out a unique niche in the world of photography. Its compact size, impressive features, and versatile lens ecosystem make it an appealing choice for photographers seeking a lightweight and portable alternative to traditional SLR systems. While it may not rival the outright image quality and autofocus performance of larger sensor formats, the system’s balance between portability and capability is hard to ignore.

Ultimately, the decision to embrace the micro four thirds system hinges on individual priorities and shooting requirements. For those who value mobility, discreet shooting, and a wide array of creative possibilities, the micro four thirds system presents an enticing proposition. Its continual evolution and widespread adoption among manufacturers ensure that this innovative format will remain a compelling choice for photographers in the years to come.